Inside the CHS

About Rich

Richard C. Malley is the Head of Collections & Research at CHS. A maritime historian by background he previously served on the curatorial staffs of Mystic Seaport and The Mariners’ Museum in Virginia. He oversees research and collections functions at CHS.

Articles by Rich:

“A Memorial” in Wool: Phineas Meigs’ Hat

September 23, 2019 · Collections

People frequently ask me what’s my favorite item in the CHS collection. Frankly, that’s a tough one, not only because there are so many great items but also because different objects tell different stories in different ways. So when asked this question recently (appropriately enough while I was watching our town’s Memorial Day parade) I…
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The New Year is Now

January 1, 2015 · Collections

As with most people, I suspect, finding time to take stock of the past year is always problematic during the holidays. Good times, bad times; things that worked, things that flopped; friends made and friends departed: it’s just a potpourri of life events.

Ephraim, Mary, and the Chest

December 18, 2014 · Collections

As a history museum curator I am ever on the lookout for objects that tell a story (or maybe multiple stories if I am lucky).

Shine your shoes!

November 20, 2014 · Collections

When was the last time you saw a bootblack—or shoe shiner—anywhere?

Connecticut History and the Helicopter

November 6, 2014 · Collections

Connecticut has had a long and close association with this type of aircraft, harkening back to Igor Sikorsky’s pioneering work in the 1930s.

Mostly out of sight…

October 23, 2014 · Collections

As I was pondering this week’s blog I started to think about some of the tasks we undertake to ensure that the examples of material culture in our collection remain available for future researchers.

This amazing collection of Webster’s gear and personal belongings include diaries kept during his time in service. CHS 2014.141

“Had a touch of the chills & fever.”

October 9, 2014 · Collections

Disease was the prime source of fatalities among soldiers in the American Civil War. The story of Private Myron D. Webster provides a more personal glimpse of this reality.

Detail of the casting data on the Hartford fire alarm bell. CHS 1931.14.0

Sounding the Alarm…in a Big Way!

September 11, 2014 · Collections

In an age when apps are increasingly becoming a way to alert people to important news, it can be both fun and instructive to look at how emergency information could be transmitted a century ago.

Strike Up the Band(box)!

July 24, 2014 · Collections

In recent years the issue of waste materials being sent to landfills has become a concern. Excessive packaging, involving paper, cardboard, plastic (don’t get me going on those impossible to open blister packs) and other materials, seems to be the norm now. And at home, we have large plastic bags filled with smaller plastic bags,…
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The Colonial Revival in Art

July 10, 2014 · Collections

Over the years that I have worked at CHS I have noticed that some items seem to have a particular appeal as illustrations. Sometimes it is clearly understandable, as with the flag that decorated Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater, or Amos Doolittle’s engravings of Lexington and Concord. But in other instances the attraction is less…
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What’s in a Name…

June 26, 2014 · Collections

The Connecticut landscape is filled with place names based on Native American antecedents, from towns and villages like Naugatuck, Niantic and Scitico to rivers such as the Housatonic, the Shetucket and, of course, lest we forget, the Connecticut. Many of these names are based on words in various Algonquian dialects spoken by Native inhabitants during…
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In Praise of Porches

June 13, 2014 · Collections

With the arrival of summer weather each year I think back to the joys of what I call “front porch living.” Unfortunately, it is an experience that has become more and more rare for a variety of reasons.

Decoration Day A Century Ago

May 29, 2014 · Collections

As the end of May approaches I begin my mental checklist of things to do over Memorial Day (originally named “Decoration Day”) weekend: mow the lawn, plant the vegetable garden, make barbeque plans (after consulting the weather gods), attend the local parade, maybe go biking or kayaking; oh, and put flowers on my parents’ graves….
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A High Tech Relic and the Other “Cable Guy”

May 15, 2014 · Collections

The long, frustrating search for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 serves as a reminder that the deepest parts of the ocean remain largely unexplored, as much terra incognita as the New World was to European explorers five centuries ago. In fact, we are told, scientists know more about the surface of the moon…
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A Legacy in Steel: Billings & Spencer Co.

May 1, 2014 · Collections

While it can be argued that these days Hartford is thought of as primarily a center of insurance and financial services, anyone driving through some of the neighborhoods just beyond downtown will be quick to note an impressive array of old industrial buildings. These brick and stone structures, some empty and unloved, others hosting a…
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America’s First “Brown Water” Navy

April 17, 2014 · Collections

This past weekend we offered a special Civil War-themed behind the scenes tour at CHS. I spent a day selecting a wide variety of objects, manuscripts and graphics items to include in the tour, including several that I had not used in the past. Among these was a pair of fine photographs of river gunboats…
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Beware the Bottle!

April 3, 2014 · Collections

Much attention is focused these days on the costs of addiction, to drugs and alcohol in particular, here in America. The Partnership for a Drug Free America is one well-known effort, while “Drink Responsibly” is the motto of a liquor industry campaign. While the specifics of these current public education efforts may vary, they rest…
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A Connecticut “Monuments Man”

March 20, 2014 · Collections

Over the past year there has been any number of news accounts concerning artwork apparently seized by the Nazis during their occupation of Europe in World War II. Adolph Hitler and Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering were particularly rapacious in this regard. Recently a large collection of paintings and other works believed to have been taken during…
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A 19th Century Eye in the Sky

March 6, 2014 · Collections

Privacy issues have come to the fore in recent years as technology has enabled prying on all facets of everyday life. Even Google’s camera-equipped cars that drive slowly through neighborhoods capturing street views have raised some concerns. Aerial photography and surveillance, once primarily the purview of military and intelligence forces, has become an issue as…
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What in the “World”?

February 20, 2014 · Collections

Sometimes the genesis of a blog is a current news story that has obvious historical parallels. Then again, a recent acquisition can certainly get my creative juices flowing. But once in a while I just like to slowly walk through collections storage, drawing inspiration from the many fabulous objects that help us connect to our…
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Trade with China, Nineteenth Century Style

February 6, 2014 · Collections

As China has emerged in the past decade as one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies, it makes sense to think about how China and the U.S. engaged in commercial activities two centuries ago. By the late 18th century western European powers were cementing commercial relationships with the reclusive Chinese empire. The newly…
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More Than One Man’s Story

January 23, 2014 · Collections

As a museum curator I am of course interested in the big picture, the sweep of events that bear on us all to one extent or the other. But the stories of individuals also have an undeniable lure, because sometimes in the story of one person we can better understand some of the larger forces…
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Memories Come Flooding Back

January 9, 2014 · Collections

Recently the Hartford Courant has begun publishing a series of articles focusing on memorable events in Connecticut’s history since the newspaper’s founding 250 years ago. And let’s face it, there have been plenty of significant events to cover. Staff writer Jim Shea, better known for his humor column, tackled the story of flooding in Connecticut…
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Some Holiday Sparkle

December 26, 2013 · Collections

The end of the year and with it the approaching holidays always get me to thinking about the past twelve months. Sort of a time for personal reflection, thoughts of things that went great and those that didn’t. I guess it all boils down to memory, which is our link between the present and the…
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Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Drone!

December 12, 2013 · Collections

So were you as amazed or mystified (or vaguely uneasy) as I was when Amazon announced their development plans for Prime Air, an airborne drone delivery system? Whether you think it is feasible or not you have to admit the concept really smacks of 1950s science fiction from the hands of such masters as Isaac…
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“Hey, you turkey!” and Other Random Thanksgiving Thoughts

November 28, 2013 · Collections

If anyone is reading this, chances are you are still sleepily digesting the remains of Thanksgiving dinner*—or perhaps you are in line waiting for stores to open their doors this evening…  In any event, Thanksgiving, one of the major national holidays, is upon us once again. Based on travel statistics this holiday sees more people…
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An Over-Sixty Looks at Veteran’s Day

November 14, 2013 · Collections

You know you’re getting old when the faces at Veteran’s Day events look more and more like yourself and less and less like your parents. Obviously it’s the natural course of things, and yet there is an unmistakable poignancy in it all. As we bid adieu to the World War II generation I can imagine…
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Of fiery steeds…and lunatics

October 31, 2013 · Collections

As a regular rider on the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail I have opportunity to pass many different types of bicycles—high tech racers, mountains, recumbents (are they really that comfortable?), hybrids, even tricycles. Occasionally my musings turn to pioneering bicycle styles, such as the high-wheeler or “ordinary” as it were called. How did they ever ride…
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On the Tarmac with Richard Welling

October 17, 2013 · Collections

I am continually amazed at the range of subjects that Richard Welling sketched in his long career. While best known for his drawings of Hartford’s changing skyline through the years, Richard also loved railroads and vessels of all types, as I have blogged about in the past. This of course now brings us to another…
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It’s a What…?

October 3, 2013 · Collections

So what was your beach reading list like this year? I recently finished reading This Republic of Suffering: Death in the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust. Not exactly cheery summer fare, I suppose, by fascinating nonetheless in this, the sesqui-centenary of that dreadful conflict. The book points out how, in the face of…
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One Veteran Salutes Another

September 19, 2013 · Collections

Richard Welling, best known for his distinctive ink drawings that documented Hartford’s changing skyline from the 1960s into the new century, had a special fondness and appreciation for vehicles, be they trains (noted in a previous blog), automobiles, aircraft or, in this instance, vessels of all shapes and sizes. While we are currently busy preparing…
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Death on the Wing in the Summer of ’64

September 5, 2013 · Collections

Let’s face it, this summer’s weather has been a godsend for mosquitoes! Over a foot of rain in June, combined with record heat in July, has been a recipe for disaster, at least comfort-wise. As summer wore on the now familiar news reports of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus or the even more dangerous Eastern…
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A Painting…and a Loaf of Bread?

August 22, 2013 · Collections

I’ve always had a lifelong interest in things that move; on land, on water, and in the air. My early career in history museums took me to the maritime field, and frankly I’ve never relinquished my fascination with all things afloat. Along the way I was introduced to fascinating characters: sailors and their wives, shipbuilders,…
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One Man’s Love Affair With Trains

August 8, 2013 · Collections

I suppose we have all wished that we could have met a particular person while they were alive; you know, someone who shared an interest or a passion with us. For me, Richard Welling was one of those people. Welling, who died in 2009, is perhaps best known for his striking pen and ink drawings…
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Speaking of Tornadoes…

July 25, 2013 · Collections

It’s tornado time in Connecticut, in case you haven’t noticed. In the past month or so at least four confirmed twisters have left their characteristic trail of damaged trees and buildings across the local landscape. One storm, which leapfrogged across the Connecticut River from Windsor Locks to East Windsor, left large swaths of white cheesecloth…
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How Others (Don’t) See Us…

July 11, 2013 · Collections

Coming off a road trip to West Virginia (mentioned in my previous blog) I was thinking about perceptions of place, and by extension the people who inhabit them. As coastal-oriented folks, my wife and I had absolutely no experience traveling through interior states; and oh my, West Virginia certainly lived up to its nickname “The…
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A Sign of Summer: The Mortlake House

June 27, 2013 · Collections

Summer travel time is almost here and I personally long for a road trip somewhere. In fact, by the time this is posted I will be in the mountains of West Virginia. At any rate, this wanderlust probably goes back to my childhood riding through southern backroads with my 3 siblings in a big old…
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The Tube Went Where…?

May 30, 2013 · Collections

I was in the inside drive-thru lane at a Walgreens drug store recently and was watching a customer in the outside lane retrieve her prescription via a motorized “capsule” that traveled to and from the pharmacy. This got me to thinking about those wonderful pneumatic tube transport systems that were and in some cases still…
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Fire at Sea!: The Steamer Lexington Disaster

May 16, 2013 · Collections

Problems seem to be plaguing the passenger ship business these days, whether it be the tragic loss of the Costa Concordia off Italy or the seemingly endless string of mechanical failures that have turned several recent pleasure cruises into anything but.

French-Canadians in Thompsonville

May 2, 2013 · Collections

Well, here’s my first blog entry ever and I am excited to be able to start sharing some personal observations about CT history and some very neat objects in the CHS collection. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries thousands of French-Canadians, including my mother’s family, migrated to the United States, drawn by the…
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